Grizzlies come to Central Montana


One of the two-year-old grizzly brothers caught outside of the Surprise Creek Colony looks at a camera from a culvert trap Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Sam Hofer

Two grizzlies were euthanized Monday after killing four orphan calves on the Surprise Creek Colony 5 miles west of Stanford.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 4 Supervisor Gary Bertellotti confirmed the males were the same bears that have been spotted in north-central Montana over the last month.

“They had come down the Teton River, headed across the Missouri and were down by Raynesford,” he said.

Government agencies became involved when the colony reported livestock loss, according to Bertellotti.

“Calves were killed,” he said. “Our normal response, with U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, is an investigation.”

The two agencies decided to trap the animals, catching them late Saturday night and early Sunday morning. Bertellotti said the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was involved throughout the process, and made the final call on the situation’s outcome.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the authority in endangered species,” he said. “Grizzly bears are an endangered species, so they have the authority to make a decision.”

Although grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Area are being delisted, the population these two brothers came from is still protected as an endangered species.

Wayne Kasworm, wildlife biologist, represented the federal agency during the situation. After several discussions, Wildlife Services and FWP called his office with a recommendation.

“We discussed and talked about it at length,” Kasworm said. “Basically, we talked about the circumstances involved: the age and sex of the bears, the location, the offense and what our options were at that point. In this case, we made a decision to lethally remove those bears.”

The two males were euthanized Sunday, and FWP is processing the carcasses to turn them into educational materials.

Bear aware
Jake Hofer, representative for Surprise Creek Colony, said the group is no stranger to bears.

“We’ve seen black bears round through the years, but no grizzlies,” he said. “Everybody knows to be scared of bears.”

Hofer reported the colony contacted a government trapper and the Judith Basin Sheriff’s Office after a wandering orphan calf led to the discovery of four dead ones.

“There was one running around and we knew he shouldn’t be,” he said.

Although lost livestock means lost money for the colony, the group was happy with the way the various agencies’ response, according to Hofer.

“They did a very good job, and we were very please with how they handled it,” he said.

Mike Madel, FWP bear management specialist, was at the colony last weekend. The bears’ travels made sense to him once he identified them as two-and-a-half-year-old grizzly brothers.

“The sub-adult males are dispersers in the population, and they’re the ones likely to go the furthest,” he said. “They’re way out of their home range. This was all-new country.”

Madel was impressed with the distance the pair had traveled. Although grizzlies are native to the prairie, the species hasn’t been seen on Central Montanan plains for decades.

 “This is the furthest east they’ve ever been; Not only did they cross the Missouri River, but in recent history, the last 100 years, fives miles west of Stanford is the furthest east they’ve ever been since they started to recover.”

Madel identified the pair as coming from the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem grizzly population in western Montana. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service map showed the two were almost 100 miles outside of the population’s known range.

The brothers’ size also impressed Madel.

“Both were in good shape,” he said. “Those were large two-year-olds, much larger than on the west side of the continental divide.”

One grizzly weighed in at 296 pounds, and the other at 286.

Although the brothers surprised everyone, Madel thinks grizzly conflict like this will not become normal.

“I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a common event,” he said. “I think the probability is going to increase every year that the bears will make it a little further. They’re expanding out east. They’ve been all the way to Tiber Dam this spring.”



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